The following is the first in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Catchers.
OAKLAND -- Well aware that in 2007 he'd be in the final year of a contract that will pay him $13 million for the season, Jason Kendall let it be known during the 2006 playoffs that he'd like to stay with the A's beyond the life of his current deal.
To underscore his sincerity, he offered to defer part of his team-high 2007 salary -- his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, are paying $5 million of it -- in exchange for a modest extension.
"I don't play for deals," Kendall told MLB.com in late December. "I play to win. So I basically said [to A's general manager Billy Beane], 'Look, if you need me to help you out so you can sign or re-sign some guys and make us better, I'm happy to do it. Just give me a couple more years and we'll make it happen.'"
Nothing to that end has happened, however, and given the massive amount of money thrown at free agents over the winter, Kendall might want to re-think his altruistic offer.
Should Kendall, 32, play out the final year of his deal and hit the open market, the combination of his lifetime batting average (.301 over 11 seasons), his durability (only catcher in history to catch 140 or more games in eight seasons), and his reputation for expertly handling pitchers (Oakland's young staff raves about him) likely will attract several well-heeled suitors.
New Giants catcher Bengie Molina, for instance, also is 32, has a .275 lifetime batting average and hasn't caught more than 120 games in a single season since 2002. He signed a three-year, $16 million deal with San Francisco in December.
"Billy knows I want to stay in Oakland," Kendall said. "At the same time, I'm not an idiot. [Free agents] are getting stupid money right now. So we'll see. We haven't heard from him, but Billy knows what he's doing, so we'll cross that bridge when we get there. It's never been about money for me. Anybody who knows anything about me knows that.
"Am I aware of what's going on out there [with free agents]? Yeah, I hear about it. But trust me, I'm not spending a lot of time thinking about it."
Most of Kendall's time this offseason has been spent with his family. In fact, when asked if he's done much working out, he joked that he gets all the workout he needs from chasing his 3-year-old son, Kuyper, around the house.
"He's my cardio trainer," said Kendall, whose wife, Chantal, is expecting the couple's first daughter in late January. "Kuyper doesn't stop from 6 a.m. until whenever he goes to bed at night."
Like father, like son.
Kendall, who batted .295 as Oakland's primary leadoff man in 2006 and led the club in multihit games (47), has started 287 games behind the plate in his two seasons with Oakland and doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon. He'd like to break Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk's all-time record for games caught (2,226), and with 1,493 games under his belt, Kendall need average only 123 games per year over the next six seasons to pass the original Pudge.
Asked if he expected to again catch 140-plus game in 2007, Kendall was quick -- and predictable -- with his reply.
"I'd better," he said.
"If you're a player and you don't expect to play every day, you've got issues. People make a big deal out of that sometimes, but it's your job to play every day. ... I want to start for the next six or seven years."
New A's manager Bob Geren, a former big-league catcher himself, doesn't plan to curtail Kendall's workload.
"He wants to play a lot, and he does a tremendous job for us," Geren said. "So I don't see anything changing much."
That might not exactly be music to Adam Melhuse's ears; Oakland's backup catcher will be 35 on Opening Day and has caught 24 games in each of Kendall's two seasons with the A's. A switch-hitter who batted .219 while also seeing time at first base, third base and designated hitter last year, Melhuse can expect a similar role in 2007.
"I really like Adam and have a lot of respect for what he does," Geren said. "He's the No. 2 catcher, which is tough when you have a guy like Jason in front of you, but I'll try to get him in there wherever I can."
The emergency catcher will be Mike Piazza, who has caught 1,629 games over 15 years in the bigs but was signed to a one-year deal to replace Frank Thomas as Oakland's full-time DH.
"That's the plan for now," Geren said, "and [Piazza] knows that."
Whether Piazza ends up catching or not, Kendall suggested his experience behind the plate can only help the A's.
"First of all, I know Mike, and he's not gonna box up all his gear and put it in a closet," Kendall said. "He's going to go down as the best offensive catcher in history, and now he doesn't have to worry about catching, but he's still going to be thinking and seeing the game like all catchers do. So in that sense, he'll be like another bench coach, another manager in the dugout.
"Catchers are the smart guys in baseball, so the more of them you have in there, the better."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.